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“In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”

November 5, 2011

 Everyone knows that addiction is the eternal dark shadow in our souls. And anyone who has been afflicted by addiction – which these days is almost all of us – knows that shadow is always there.

I grew up amidst the very dark world of addiction. All of the men in my childhood world smoked and drank too much. They lived various lives of mania, depression, violence, and shame.

Now, living in the big city, I see addictions almost everywhere. There are the acceptable addictions: coffee, tea, work. There are the newly poo-poo’d addictions: sugar, smoking, sex. And there are still the addictions of the weak and the ostracized: cocaine, heroine, crystal meth. And there are always the alcoholics. Ah, the family flashbacks…

But I see addiction too in the exercisers, those obsessed with power, or money; the TV addicts, computer game addicts, porn addicts, the materialists, the workaholics, food fetishers, movie watchers, house cleaners, the pet owners…our compulsion to distract ourselves knows no bounds.

 I have just finished Gabor Mate’s acclaimed 2008 book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a mesmerizing look at addiction. He expertly reveals what the new science discoveries are telling us about our brains and our addictions, and how little we know about the new science.

Our largest, most expensive, most destructive human affliction – is so little understood.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is one of those “canary-in-a-coalmine” books. As we consume record amounts of sugar, coffee, pot, cocaine, and/or work our 60 hour weeks, and obsessively obsess about “improving” ourselves, Mate shows us how our brain moves in ever-tightening chemical loops to fill an emotional hole which no compulsive behaviour will ever fill.

In a society now singularly directed towards the meaningless of mass production and mass consumption of goods, Mate reminds us that our addictions will soon overwhelm us (i.e. diabetes, environmental decay), in a maddening and ever-tightening loop of despair.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is dealing with addiction – in whatever capacity – be it mild, medium, or suicidal.

Mate has a rich compassionate voice. He has the voice we dream of hearing in all of our doctors. He tells us how addiction works, and what we need to do to confront it. The loop can be broken.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a beautiful, informative book, full of hope and guidance.

Highly recommended reading.

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